Lowell City Council Wants Teeth in Bully Law
LOWELL -- Anna Aslanian wasn’t the first student to take her own life after getting bullied.
But she needs to be the last.
That was the message at Tuesday’s City Council meeting from Summer Graham, whose son was physically bullied 10 years ago as a 5th-grader.
Graham, speaking for the No Bully Zone Kidz anti-bullying program started by her son Shane, who is now 21, said Lowell needs to be a leader on this issue -- moments before city councilors supported a motion to address bullying in schools.
City Councilor Rita Mercier’s motion requested the Lowell Statehouse delegation revisit the state’s bullying policy to amend the section which does not allow bullying victims to learn how or if the bully was punished by the school.
The motion came in the wake of The Sun’s special report on Anna, the 16-year-old Lowell High School student who took her own life after getting relentlessly bullied in middle and high school.
Mercier stressed they need to give victims and their families a voice. Victims should know how the bully was punished for their bad deeds, she added.
Today, this information is confidential because of student privacy laws.
“I’m more concerned with the rights of victims,” Mercier said.
“We must send a message that those who prey on others will be held accountable,” she later added. “It’s time we send a message we won’t tolerate this anymore.”
Mercier also discussed how her daughter was bullied in school, and mentioned that she herself was once bullied.
She pointed to a recent report that the 2010 anti-bullying law is failing, and that few are being disciplined for bullying.
“It’s time to save our children,” Mercier said. “We need to come up with real ways to implement these policies.”
Graham, speaking for the anti-bullying group, said the 2010 legislation didn’t go far enough.
Many students who are bullied do not report it because they’re afraid of retaliation, she emphasized.
“They need to feel like they’re safe and won’t get bullied again,” Graham said, adding that she supports Mercier’s motion.
City Councilor Vesna Nuon called it an important motion, saying schools in Lowell and across the state need to send a message to bullies -- that it’s not acceptable.
City Councilor Rodney Elliott added that bullies need to be held accountable.
“This (Anna’s death) should never happen again, where someone feels so hopeless and helpless,” Elliott said.
He highlighted the importance of training for teachers, and for them to stay vigilant.
City Councilor Karen Cirillo said it’s important for teachers to know how to handle bullying situations, and for them to follow through.
Lowell schools have a number of programs and training opportunities, said both Mayor Bill Samaras and City Councilor Dave Conway, who were Lowell High School headmaster and housemaster, respectively.
“Teachers talk to students constantly about bullying,” Conway said. “There’s signage all over the place talking about respect and not bullying.”
Conway also mentioned that it’s extremely difficult to combat cyberbullying.
He supported Mercier’s motion, and invited the anti-bullying group back to a future Youth Subcommittee meeting to hear more of their ideas on reducing bullying.
City Councilor Edward Kennedy, now a member of the Statehouse delegation as state senator, said it might be time to revisit the anti-bullying legislation.
He also said the city could have a subcommittee monitor how the schools are addressing bullying, and make recommendations to strengthen policies.
“It might be something we can do locally without waiting for Statehouse legislation,” Kennedy said.
The mayor had recently mentioned wanting to create a task force to address bullying in schools. That commission would come up with recommendations for the school system, he reiterated Tuesday evening in response to Kennedy’s subcommittee idea.
Samaras said he expects to create the task force soon.
Follow Rick Sobey on Twitter @rsobeyLSun.